I am currently working towards the production of a Roll of Honour for the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland in the First World War. All being well we should be on course for the publication of as complete a Roll of Honour as possible of all the men and women of the denomination in Ireland who served in the Great War including all those who gave their lives. This will be published at a service in Downpatrick on Sunday, 18th November at 3.00 pm.
The Roll will comprise two parts – a list, by congregation, of all the men and women whose name is known who served in any capacity in the war, and a list, with brief biographical details, of all those who were killed during the conflict or died as a direct result of their service.
It is a melancholy task to trawl through the records trying to identify the service of the hundreds of names (often no more than names to start with) and to place them in the context of a regiment or ship or other area of service. The first part of the book will consist – because of its nature – of a list of names, the second will contain a bit more detail. But all the names dealt with are human stories and there is in the case of everyone behind the name a detailed account of a life, a family, service, sacrifice, bravery and suffering.
Alongside the production of the book I thought I would add here some more detailed stories of some of the people who appear in the book. I begin, with this post, with the Rev Alfred Turner.
Rev Alfred Turner in the uniform of the YMCA
Alfred Turner was the highly respected minister of Templepatrick for a number of years and alongside his ministry held the position of the first editor of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian magazine. Under his guidance the magazine began to maintain a Roll of Honour as the Great War commenced although this stopped at the start of 1916 and kept no record of the last two years of the war. One of the reasons for this is that Alfred Turner himself was heavily involved in war work. He served with the YMCA at the front as a uniformed non-combatant bringing support to the troops and working essentially as a chaplain. As such he was one of about five Non-Subscribing Presbyterian ministers who took on this role, although his contribution was the most extensive. As YMCA workers they conducted worship for the soldiers, distributed tea and cocoa and sold biscuits, cake, chocolate, cigarettes and candles to the troops. Alfred Turner gives full accounts of his work in the NSP and writes of feeding up to 3,000 soldiers in one go and of leading worship in packed huts where:
A great quiet pervades the place whilst the minister says prayer, and you can feel the communion of Spirit when, in the course of prayer, he commends to our Father’s guidance and keeping the loved ones in the homelands. It is a prayer in which all hearts and desires are joined, and then all unite in saying the Lord’s Prayer.
His accounts (and those of some of the others working with the YMCA) are valuable descriptions of the privations of the troops as well as their morale and attitudes which I will probably return to at some point.
The Irish Census for 1901 and 1911 record Alfred Turner’s growing family on the point of the cataclysm of the First World War. In 1901 with his wife Mary they record two sons and a daughter, his sister in law and a visiting relative plus two live-in servants. By 1911 they have two more children (a boy and a girl) another visiting relative but no live-in servants, instead there is a German governess for the growing family. In 1911 Alfred Turner misread the instructions for recording place of birth in the census and before adding ‘England’ here had written and subsequently deleted Bradford, Yorks.
His eldest son (Hugh Nelson Turner) was 14 in 1911, his next eldest son (Alfred Clough Turner) just 10. Shortly after the outbreak of war Alfred joined the Queen’s University Veteran’s Corps and patrolled the Docks with that Corps. He later also worked as a munitions worker in Belfast. His eldest son had been studying for the ministry but joined up and is listed first of all in the NSP Roll of Honour as part of the Queen’s University Officer Training Corps. By March 1915 he is listed as being with the 14th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles, later still being commissioned into the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment with which regiment he was wounded at Ypres in October 1917. His younger brother Arthur Clough Nelson is recorded on the War Memorial in Templepatrick Church as himself having become a Cadet before the end of the war. He would have been about 17 by then.
Old Presbyterian Church Templepatrick War Memorial
The Rev Alfred Turner was 53 in the year the Great War broke out and he managed to pack a lot into his war service as well as see his eldest son join up and face all the horrors of the Western Front, with his next son not far behind. He made a number of extended journeys to France to work with the YMCA. While he was away somebody deputised for him as editor of the NSP. I have his personal bound set of the first ten years of the magazine. It is a poignant memento and contains a copy of the October 1916 issue sent out to him at the front. That issue contains his portrait (as shown above). In my copy a line runs through the photograph where it was folded to post and on the back page is written the military postal destination where Alfred Turner was based at the time (picture above).